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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 July, 2004, 13:17 GMT 14:17 UK
Regional assembly vote dates set
John Prescott
Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is keen on regional assemblies
Referendums to decide whether three English regions will get regional elected assemblies will be held on 4 November, the government has announced.

Voters in Yorkshire-and-Humber, the North East and North West will be asked to vote on assemblies and to choose new structures of local government.

They will be all-postal ballots despite some criticism of recent postal trials.

Minister Nick Raynsford said it was a "historic opportunity" for people to change how their regions are governed.

Opportunity

The postal voting trials during June's European and local elections were criticised over delays, errors and fraud, and are still being reviewed by the Electoral Commission.

The BBC's local government correspondent John Andrew said that could cause problems for Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott - who has championed regional devolution - in keeping to the referendum timetable.

But ministers say the commission, expected to report in mid-September, would have to produce convincing evidence that the system was unsafe before they would delay the referendums.

However, announcing the date for the referendum, minister for local and regional government Nick Raynsford said: "People in the three northern regions now know that in November they should have a historic opportunity to change the way their region is governed.

"Following on from successful devolution in Scotland, Wales and London, it is now the time for the northern regions to have a say."

'Hopeless split'

But for the Tories, shadow minister for the regions Bernard Jenkin said: "This isn't so much the great North vote as the great North hoax.

"It's all very well claiming that voters will be given a say on the reorganisation of local government, but what will this achieve when the regional assemblies will be little more than toothless talking shops, without any real powers apart from those they have clawed away from local government, taking power even further away from local people.

If Prescott wants to win the November vote, people need to see more power being devolved from Whitehall
Ed Davey
Lib Dem spokesman

"Labour is hopelessly split, but Prescott is blundering on anyway.

"He's insisting on pushing through his pet project, despite unanswered questions over the integrity of the all-postal voting system and the absence of a draft Bill on the intended powers."

Lib Dem spokesman Ed Davey said: "It is high time the large regional bureaucracies set up by the Conservatives and Labour parties were made accountable to the communities they serve - and not just Ministers in Whitehall.

"Our concern has been the mishandling of these devolution plans - with too few powers being pushed down and with the unnecessary council reorganisation coupled with the regional question.

"If Prescott wants to win the November vote, people need to see more power being devolved from Whitehall."




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's John Andrew
"The North-East is by far the front runner in getting a yes vote"



SEE ALSO:
Delay possible for regional votes
22 Jun 04  |  Politics
Q&A: Regional Assemblies
25 May 04  |  Business
Region facing boundary shake up
25 May 04  |  England
Beer and fish 'cost' for assembly
23 Jan 04  |  England


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